Not every game is a Picasso or Renoir. When it comes to The Rivalry, sometimes it’s going to be a battle for every square inch of real estate. That was the case in the rematch won by the Rangers over the Islanders 2-1 in what may have been the last meeting at Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn this afternoon.
The difference was a gritty goal from Mats Zuccarello with 5:05 left in regulation. It’s been well documented about the emotional 31-year old veteran’s struggles due to the potential of a trade that’s coming. His honesty in a recent interview with New York Post columnist Larry Brooks was refreshing. It probably was the best thing he could’ve done. Since then, Zuccarello has gotten back to playing the hard nosed hockey that’s made him a very popular Ranger.
If indeed his career as a Blueshirt is winding down, it was nice to see him rewarded on a odd deflection off his skate from a even offer Tony DeAngelo pass that came due to a Mika Zibanejad face-off win. It was only Zuccarello’s fifth goal in his 31st game this season. He doesn’t get many. So, it was fitting that he wound up with the game-winner on a hard working play in front with the DeAngelo shot pass taking a favorable bounce off him and then going through a maze that included Chris Kreider to sneak past Isles starter Robin Lehner. It snapped a personal best eight-game winning streak for Lehner, who again was tough to beat. He finished with 24 saves.
I was a bit hard on Henrik Lundqvist the other night following the crushing 4-3 home loss that saw Josh Bailey get the winner for the Islanders’ only shot with 1:26 left in the third period. It was somewhat understandable. Especially given how Lundqvist has fared versus the Isles recently. When I said I’d skip today’s game if he got the start, I was half kidding. Low and behold, Rangers coach David Quinn gave him the day off in favor of backup goalie Alexandar Georgiev. It proved to be the right decision. The Rangers played well in front of him and he delivered 24 saves on 25 Islander shots to improve to 2-0-0 against them. The rookie has allowed only one goal in two starts with the other being his first career shutout on Turkey Eve.
Maybe I was right when I said Georgiev should play the rematch. It allowed Lundqvist to rest up for tomorrow when the Rangers visit Columbus. Hopefully, that cannon won’t be going bonkers.
Whatever the reason, the team plays differently in most of Georgiev’s starts. He credited the defense for doing a good job in front. They also blocked a lot of shots. None were bigger and gutsier than Adam McQuaid selling out during a key Isles power play. The gritty right defenseman only knows one way to play. Balls out. That can be taken literally with the enormous block he had of a dangerous Islanders shot that had him down for a couple of minutes. Astonishingly, he got up and skated off to the bench. Not surprisingly, he returned for the next shift to finish a successful penalty kill because he’s a hockey player.
We all know about the Rangers’ struggles on the kill. They gave up two Islander power play goals in the 4-3 loss the other night. Today, they again took too many penalties. The Isles had six power plays including an abbreviated five-on-three. The difference was our penalty killers were more aggressive. They pressured the Islanders more not giving them as much time and space to make plays. That included the lethal Mathew Barzal, who was held off the score sheet with three shots.
The Isles’ only goal came from noted Rangers killer Anthony Beauvillier, who scored his seventh career goal in nine games against them. It came as time expired on a very undisciplined Chris Kreider minor penalty for holding Jordan Eberle in the offensive zone. The penalty came at 6:40 of the second period, allowing the Isles to take a 1-0 lead. Kreider didn’t take another shift the rest of the period. Quinn made a good decision to bench his leading goalscorer- making a example out of him. He’s taken too many of those. It was the right message to send.
On a power play, Pavel Buchnevich replaced Kreider on the top unit. Something Sam Rosen noted right away. The bottom line is this team needs Kreider out for regular shifts. Not in the penalty box watching due to lack of discipline. He knows it.
It’s interesting that both teams failed to score on two-man advantages. The Islanders’ came in the first while the Rangers’ came midway through the contest. Their lengthier five-on-three was awful. The extent of it was Ryan Strome being set up for a one-timer that missed the net. The rest of the power play including five-on-four was a comedy of errors. They made it was too easy for the Isles penalty killers.
Oddly enough, the blown opportunity didn’t cost them. Instead, some great hustle from improving rookie Boo Nieves saw him get the puck to Filip Chytil in front for a sweet finish to tie the game at 14:09. A excellent play all around that saw Chytil get his third goal in four games versus the Islanders. Imagine that. A young player with upside who buries chances against the Rangers’ number one rival.
There really wasn’t much separating the two teams throughout. You had a lot of hotly contested battles during shifts. In the third, Georgiev made a couple of clutch saves on tough deflections. Of course, Anders Lee was front and center. He makes a living on those. He had a tricky one off a right point shot from Ryan Pulock that Georgiev swallowed up. He told MSG’s John Giannone he expected them due to the Isles’ style.
To be honest, I think they outworked the Islanders in the latter stages to get the win. They were a bit better in crunch time. All it took was a face-off win by Zibanejad and a seeing eye DeAngelo shot that was a pass more than anything. The puck banked in off Zuccarello for a redirection. He was in the right place at the right time. Oh. And Kreider came back well from sitting the rest of the second with a stronger third. That was a good response.
Following Zuccarello’s goal, it was the Blueshirts that dominated play. They forechecked the Islanders. That included a big shift from DeAngelo, who replaced Neal Pionk (lower body injury?) to pair up well with Marc Staal. This was more like it. Staal also drew a very poor hooking minor on Valtteri Filppula with 2:17 left.
Quinn went more conventional with the power play using both DeAngelo and Kevin Shattenkirk with Zibanejad, Kreider and Zuccarello. They did a good job of playing keep away.
It was a good win even if it came a bit ugly according to my Dad, who met a buddy and went to his first game in Brooklyn. That’s how it had to be. Winning ugly can be an art form.
BONY 3 STARS:
3rd 🌟 Adam McQuaid, Rangers (5 hits, 2 blocks including the play of the game)
2nd 🌟 Boo Nieves, Rangers (primary assist on Chytil’s tying goal, continues progression)
1st 🌟 Mats Zuccarello, Rangers (game-winning goal for 5th of season at 14:55 of 3rd)